Friday Five – Volume 116: Lists!! (plus 1)

This week shall be a week about lists.

Recently I was reading Back To Virtue by Peter Kreeft and in a section on virtues in the Sermon on the Mount (or Beatitudes) was struck by his outstanding description of what they are and how we react to them. I’ll have to post that later as time is short for me today and I would also like to keep this F5 short. Plus there are a lot of links here for you so that you may spend your time reading what I’ve linked to instead of my own blathering endlessly on. Plus as a bonus I’ve included a sixth entry.

And now on to those lists!

Friday Five-Mere Observations

— 1 —

The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-10). Listed here because I alluded to them in the intro, and because they are among the most important and most challenging words ever written.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

— 2 —

The 7 Habits of People Who Place Radical Trust in God by Jennifer Fulwiler.

In which she lists the common threads she found between the lives of people who place their entire trust in the Lord. It is a tremendous list and there is much wisdom to by learned from considering these seven habits very carefully and applying them to our lives.

— 3 —

7 Tips Perfectionists Don’t Want to Hear by Silvana Ramos.

If you are a perfectionist as I am, this is a must read. If you know or love someone who has these tendencies it is a must read to help you understand them. Number 2, and the description she provides with it, has been the hell of my own making for as long as I can remember.

— 4 —

Within his article for Catholic World Report Thomas Doran lists The Other 10 Commandments, or as I refer to them The 10 Commandments of This World.

Unlike God’s Commandments, which are unchanging and necessary for man’s well being in every time and place, Satan’s commandments are adapted to changing cultures, so as to most effectively entice, discourage, and destroy. The devil’s commandments for our age, as I read them in this new year. Beware, they are troubling and terrible.

Click here and scroll down to read his list, though I recommend the entire article. It’s not long.

— 5 —

Within his article Hilary Mantel’s Cursed Childhood Rod Dreher lists six things that he identifies as recurrent themes in his writing that emerged from his most formative experiences. You can read the entire article if you wish, but I’m going to paste them below as they are, for me, worthy of keeping at my mind’s forefront when dealing with the world and people each day.

The world is not what we think it is. What is unseen is as real as what’s seen.

People are not who we think they are; they are not even who they think they are.

People will go to extraordinary lengths — including telling themselves outlandish lies, accepting what ought to be unacceptable and making their own lives and the lives of others miserable — to avoid facing truths that would compromise the worldview upon which they’ve settled.

The battle lines between good and evil, and between order and chaos, are not drawn where we would like them to be. The front is everywhere, most particularly within our own hearts.

Be wary of the treachery of the good man who believes in his own goodness.

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12)

— 6 —

As a tonic I’m going to present a bonus this week: 10 Brilliant Quotes from St. Francis de Sales on Cultivating Peace.

St. Francis de Sales has become very important in my life as I’ve read and reread his classic The Introduction to the Devout Life. I highly recommend it to anyone.

Pick one or more from this list, write it down, and read it each day when you wake up. Soon you will “Be who you are and be that well.”

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Friday Five – Volume 115

Friday Five-Mere Observations

— 1 —

Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
∼  T.S. Eliot, Choruses from the Rock

— 2 —

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany. It is, at last, the Twelfth Day of Christmas.

…the Feast of the Epiphany is a feast of light because it reminds us that God is not an inert philosophical argument, but the truth. And the truth is light to see God and the world as they truly are, unclouded by delusion or desire. Reality, in short, cannot be seen or fully understood without God. (Source)

Sometimes people ask me what God will do with all the peoples of the world who have never heard of Jesus Christ. Are they damned? Are they saved in some other way? I leave those matters to God. I would rather ask how Christ will judge me because so many have never heard His saving Word – precisely because of my lack of enthusiasm or my desire to keep aloof from the missionary work of the Church. (Source)

3wisemen

Ok, I’ll stop now. Happy Feast of the Epiphany!

— 3 —

mulcahyDuring 2016 the populace seemed to become obsessed in its tracking and then lamenting the deaths of several pop culture celebrities. I’m not making light of this other than to say I don’t see 2016 any differently than any other calendar year. People were born. People died. And not just celebrities that entertained us or gave us those warm emotional warm fuzzies. We lost friends and family. In this regard 2016 was to me just like any other year.

On the last day of the year a man died at the age of 84. For eleven of those 84 years William Christopher played the role of Fr. Mulcahy on the television show M*A*S*H. For the other 73 years (and for the 11 that we watched him perform) he was a very real and warm friend and family member to those who knew him best.

In the 1981 episode “Blood Brothers”, Fr. Mulcahy delivered one of the best sermons I’ve ever heard, fiction or otherwise:

I want to tell you about two men. Each facing his own crisis. The first man you know rather well. The second is a patient here. Well, the first man thought he was facing a crisis. But what he was really doing was trying to impress someone. He was looking for recognition, encouragement, a pat on the back. And whenever that recognition seemed threatened he reacted rather childishly. Blamed everyone for his problems but himself because he was thinking only of himself. But the second man was confronted with the greatest crisis mortal man can face, the loss of his life. I think you will agree that the second man had every right to be selfish. But instead he chose to think not of himself, but of a brother. A brother! When the first man saw the dignity and the selflessness of the second man, he realized how petty and selfish he had…I….I…I had been. It made me see something more clearly than I’ve ever seen it before. God didn’t put us here for that pat on the back. He created us so he could be here himself. So he could exist in the lives of those he created, in his image.

Thank you Mr. Christopher, for your portrayal of this role. I’ll think of you every time I say “Jocularity, jocularity!” And I’ve always wanted my own hat like the one you wore all those years.

— 4 —

I had never heard of Carlo Carretto until Heather King mentioned him the other day. She cited something written by him that struck me during the holidays, the time when our awareness is heightened concerning the juxtaposition of gift-giving, gift-receiving, and the poverty that is still rampant among us. And that Christ was born into the midst of that poverty.

Judgments on the question of poverty are difficult to make. The garb of a pauper, a small house, a wooden table, a chipped cup, the plaited haversack—these are external signs. Then there is the reality, the true poverty, which is altogether interior and invisible.

Today, I prefer the reality. And I actually see it is better, see it in its real essence, because now it has become something more vast, and universal.

The one who cannot meet the rent is not the only poor person. He or she is poor as well who is suffering from cancer.

Those who live in burned-out slums are not the only poor. He or she is poor as well who is on drugs, who is unloved, who is marginalized, who is alone…

So it is difficult to judge.

And I do not wish to judge.

So I only say, place yourselves directly before God and be judged by him.

And keep one thing in mind.

At the vespers of your life you will be judged by your love, not by your poverty.

I say this because out on the frontiers of the Church poverty has become a battlefield, where the poor hate the rich, and the laborer hates his or her employer.

This is no longer blessedness. It is not even the Gospel. This is Marxism…

Never forget, God is love. Poverty is but his garment.

*****

At the vespers of your life you will be judged by your love, not by your poverty. I really like that line.

— 5 —

A few months ago I decided that in 2017 I would write less, and read more. In particular I am dedicating the year to the study of the virtues, for it is in the lack of the practice of virtues that I see much of the darkness in our world.

In the Introduction to his book The Book of Man, William Bennett writes:

But the decline in foundational virtues—work, marriage, and religion—affects more than the lower class. It appears to affect the upper reaches of the wealthiest also. For instance, we once believed that the wealth and successs for men were connected to and were a product of diligence and virtue. We are not so sure anymore.

Walter Russell Mead, the accomplished cultural essayist, put it this way about some of America’s elite men: “What a surprise! We raised a generation of bright kids without a foundation in religion, and they’ve grown up and gone to Wall Street. We never told them that the virtuous life was both necessary and hard, that character was something that had to be built step by step from youth, that moral weakness was both contemptible and natural: and we are shocked, shocked! when, placed in proximity to large sums of loose cash, they grab all they can.” In short, from the top to the bottom of American society we have a problem with a good number of our men.

One such symptom is the collapse of what is known as the code of men, or the code of a gentleman. There was once a common understanding in our society among men that there are standards of action and behavior to which men should hold themselves. Men, the code dictates, among other things, keep their word, whether in writing or not, men do not take advantage of women, men support their children, and men watch their language, especially around women and children. The code of men is fading.

[To those who dismiss the above as 1) old fashioned; and/or 2) sexist I will say right here and now: “So?” In short, I don’t care. I’ve tried things your way (and by your I mean the current zeitgeist of the world). It isn’t working. Not just for me, but obviously for a lot of us. Obviously I believe that these virtues apply to women as well as men and recognize the context in which things were written. So until you can present a more cogent argument than the two I listed above, save your breath.]

Initially I struggled to come up with a list to study. There are the twelve virtues as put forth by St. Alphonsus Liguori in his book The Twelve Steps to Holiness and Salvation which I own and enjoy. There are also twelve virtues listed in the daily devotional Cultivating Virtue: Self-Mastery with the Saints. This is a reprint of a book published in 1891 as A Year with the Saints: A Virtue for Every Month of the Year (available online). There are the Five Cardinal Moral Virtues as defined by Socrates. And as a Catholic I’m aware of the four Cardinal Virtues, the three Theological Virtues and the seven Capital Virtues. And of course there are more and various lists. There are the seven virtues listed in Manvotionals: Timeless Wisdom and Advice on Living the 7 Manly Virtues. William Bennett wrote a best-seller twenty years ago called The Book of Virtues.

When I laid the above out in a table I was able to quickly assess that several of the lists mentioned contained the same or similar virtues. This means the list of forty-three is a lower number and not so daunting.

I’ve flirted with the idea of writing about a virtue at the end of each month, but I think it more likely I will be content to read, study and lightly journal about each one instead. Perhaps when all is said and done I will write about what I find. But for now I think it best to limit myself to their study instead. I need to absorb them more deeply before I dare to put forth my thoughts.

Stay tuned, and have a great week (and 2017).

Finding beauty and joy on the planet of the apes

This morning I was greeted with a story that broke yesterday about the mentally disabled man who was kidnapped, tied up and tortured while his ordeal was broadcast on Facebook Live. I have not watched it. After reading initial reports last night I chose not to watch before bed. I chose to not watch again today after receiving a few emails from friends about it as well as seeing it on social media.

Social media. Satan’s greatest invention, don’t you think? I do. Social media itself is a tool and therefore neutral in its nature. But man, being a fallen creature, tends to corrupt the neutral. This is why after a two year experiment with Twitter I had enough. I still have an account but haven’t logged on in a month. I’ve removed Facebook from my phone and allow myself 20 minutes a day at work to glance at it. Like Rabbi Jonathan Sacks I believe we need to get beyond the politics of anger.

At the end of Wendell Berry’s novel Jayber Crow the title character says:

This is, as I said and believe, a book about Heaven, but I must say too that it has been a close call. For I have wondered sometimes if it would not finally turn out to be a book about Hell – where we fail to love one another, where we hate and destroy one another for reasons abundantly provided or for righteousness’ sake or for pleasure, where we destroy the things we need the most, where we see no hope and have no faith, where we are needy and alone, where things that ought to stay together fall apart, where there is such a groaning travail of selfishness in all its forms, where we love one another and die, where we must lose everything to know what we have had.

Increasingly social media, or our media in general, seems to be to be a book about Hell.

During those brief daily interludes on Facebook I began to notice that a friend of mine from Mississippi was daily posting the blog entries for a blog called Sean of the South. After a week I read one entry. Then two. After the third I signed up to have his posts delivered to my inbox each day. I recommend it to you as well. His writing reminds me a little of Jean Shepherd, the man who wrote the stories that the popular movie A Christmas Story is based upon. Shepherd is also the voice that narrates the movie. I’ve read three of his books and often laugh along to his stories. Sean Dietrich can do the same, though he is also a bit more somber at times. This morning’s offering, a story he called simply “Good”, was an excellent antidote to what happened in Chicago. I’ll let you read it for yourself, but I will include a small portion of it here.

Anyway, I feel I owe it to you to admit: I don’t know much about life—I have the lack of training to prove it.

Even so, I’m a person who believes in something. In miracles. Small ones I’ve seen with my own eyes. In people. In things that terrify the sapsuckers who write the nightly news—folks who earn livings reporting on the worst mankind has to offer.

Well, I think life is a lot more than a string of bad headlines.

Me too brother.

As if to punctuate this point I saw this story about three little girls and their garbagemen posted to Facebook this morning. Read the story (or watch the ABC News video).

But Jeff, that young man today is hurting. He’s been traumatized. Aren’t you angry?

Of course I am, but what good does that do other than increase my blood pressure and make my day more difficult than it is? One of my friends that mentioned that the story out of Chicago likened it to “life on the Planet of the Apes”. I can’t disagree with him and have the same thought when I spend too much time looking at nothing but social media and the news. We are approaching a tipping point of a dark nature. I’ve seen several pundits and cultural observers agree with that assessment. It may indeed get very much worse before it gets better.

(Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.)

On Facebook sometime in late 2015 having had enough of all the political shouting and anger I wrote “I choose Joy.” I wrote those three words as an affirmation and reminder to myself to avoid falling into the pit of despair that can result from immersing oneself in the cesspool. I will also add that I’ve further chosen to focus on the beauty that surrounds us all. Because if we but open our eyes it is there, present in our fellow human beings, our families, our pets, music, scenery. It’s there.

On January 1 we said goodbye once again to our son as he left our driveway and headed back to his base in California. Later that day my wife and I decided to go to a movie for my birthday and saw Collateral Beauty. After seeing a trailer for the film I suggested to her that we go. There’s no CGI. No superheroes. I liked the cast. It looked like a simple, but interesting, story. While critics savaged the film on my Flixter app I read five times as many viewer reviews that were positive. I’m glad we went.

I’m not going to write about the film’s plot. From IMDB:

Retreating from life after a tragedy, a man questions the universe by writing to Love, Time and Death. Receiving unexpected answers, he begins to see how these things interlock and how even loss can reveal moments of meaning and beauty.

During the film a character recalls the words a stranger said to her when facing a tragedy in her own life: “Don’t forget to notice the collateral beauty.”

So looking back at the last few weeks I’ve noticed it:

In my household while my oldest son was home during his two week holiday leave from his Marine base.

In my wife’s hands as she repaired the small holes in Nolan’s camos just as she had sewn the holes in his baseball uniforms throughout his youth.
sewing

In the madness and activity surrounding our daughter’s Christmas Concert.

In my daughter’s face while she sat next to me and her two brothers watching Rogue One in 3D. I glanced over in time to watch her mouth open wide and her small hands reach out in front of her.

In our beagle Buster as he was once more reunited with his master and was virtually inseparable from Nolan’s lap for two weeks.

In the batting cage where Jonah has spent the last three weeks working on his swing because in his words he “wants to continue to improve”. He hopes to play college baseball one day. His words. Not mine.

swing

In the home of our longtime friends who invited my wife and I over one night to enjoy the wet bar they’d built in their basement after years of discussions. It was present in the laughter, conversation and glow of our cheeks after several recipes involving scotch and bourbon served in a glass.

In the liturgy, music and faces of our fellow parishioners at Mass on Christmas Eve.

In the soft glow of the Christmas candle burning in the center of our Advent wreath after I prayed Matins after midnight on Christmas Eve.

christmas_eve

In our visits with each side of our families to gather for food and presents. In particular I saw it in the face of my two-year old nephew as he climbed on my lap and allowed me to take a 60 second video of himself laughing at his image on my phone’s screen. For the next hour he took my phone away and watched again and again and again the image of himself laughing at himself. And he laughed a beautiful laugh and smiled a beautiful smile.

In the impromptu game of darts that broke out New Year’s Eve on our back patio in 20 degree weather between my three children. Nolan had purchased a dartboard to take back to his barracks. He leaned it against the brick wall and from 8-10pm he played with his younger siblings. My daughter was in her robe and slippers, but her face was warm with laughter and competition. I joined in a game of 301 with them before we went inside to warm up.

In the game of Nerts that my wife and I played with our two youngest afterwards. It has become a bit of a family tradition to play this frantic card game since 2014 when our oldest was at boot camp. This year after one hand he offered to sit in for me as his brother’s partner. For the first time in three years the boys beat the girls at Nerts. Next December 31 when he’s not with us while he’s on deployment I’ll once again partner with Jonah and hopefully do well or else ring in 2018 by hearing how awful a partner I am.

In my daughter wishing me a Happy Birthday after counting down to midnight on New Year’s Eve “Happy 50th birthday, Dad!” After explaining to her that I was now 49 she replied “Really? You look older…like you’re 50.” She’s grounded until I turn 50 next year.

In reviewing my daughter’s homework from school, and laughing at her clever creativity in which she turned a spelling test into a cartoon project of sorts.

spellingbee

In the many birthday wishes graciously sent by friends and family. 

I saw beauty in the blanket of softly falling snow outside my window just last night.

On January 1st after Nolan left our driveway we were too late to attend 10:30am Mass at our home parish so we journeyed a few minutes south to attend the 11am Mass at a neighboring church. And there, once more, I saw beauty. It came to me in these words from Holy Scripture during the Old Testament reading from Numbers, Chapter 6:

The LORD bless you and keep you!
The LORD let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you!
The LORD look upon you kindly and give you peace!

And I thought to myself “What a wonderful blessing to use to greet others in 2017.”

I guess where I’m going is this:

The Beauty is always there, if you but look long enough while standing still.

The Joy is there too. It is our reaction to encountering the Beauty.

Both are present. We just need to stand still long enough to notice.

Reviving the Classic Liberal Arts Education: what I heard at George Weigel’s lecture in Lincoln

weigel-lecture-info

On November 30th I had just arrived home from a long day at work when a good friend sent me a text inviting me to attend a lecture at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Newman Center. It was to be the final of four in the “Reborn in Wonder” series and since I’d had to miss the other three despite wanting to go, I accepted the invitation. Ninety minutes later Tom and I were in our seats in the second row. I learned afterwards from one of the organizers that the room sat 240, but with the people also standing at the back and sides the crowd was estimated at just over 250 people. The crowd was a mixture of college students, priests and religious sisters, as well as many interested laypeople. I saw and spoke with several of my peers afterwards. There were children present as well, and the front row just ahead of me contained five siblings ranging from I’d estimate early elementary to early high school in age.

For those not familiar with George Weigel you can read his Wikipedia entry. He is both a respected author and one of the leading Catholic intellectual voices of our age. I own four of his books and flirted with the idea of bringing one to be autographed but ultimately decided against it. As it turned out I should have as he signed a few after the lecture.

After an introduction courtesy of Professor John Freeh, Doctor of Philosophy, Mr. Weigel began the night by citing some recent survey stats. My apologies as I didn’t catch the source:

  • 35% of Millennials believe that George W. Bush killed more people than Stalin
  • Only 1/3 of Dutch young people thought it essential to live in a democratic state
  • Less than 30% of US young people thought the same
  • 35% of US population are Millennials, but those same Millennials comprise just 19% of the electorate
George Weigel

George Weigel

After establishing a bit of where we are now, he proceeded into the heart of his talk and what he called “The Revival of the Classic Liberal Arts Education”.

To start, he listed, defined and discussed Five Toxins/Solvents that are eating away at civilization.

  1. Gnosticism
  2. Skepticism
  3. Moral Relativism
  4. Radical Individualism
  5. The Will to Power as the center of the human condition. This in turn leads to “A Regime of Coercion”

Weigel also described the “Three-Legged Stool of Western Civilization”

  1. Jerusalem
  2. Athens
  3. Rome

Jerusalem: brought us the school of thought that said life is a journey, an adventure, a pilgrimage, and that life is NOT random. Here he mentioned the experiences and lessons of the Book of Exodus.

Athens: taught that there are truths. That human reason can grasp them in an orderly way. The “Principle of Non-Contradiction” was discussed.

Rome: taught us that the Rule of Law is superior to brute force when governing (even though they were also known to ignore this at times in their history).

By the 11th century the three legs had produced what we know as the Civilization of the West in which the Dignity of the Human Person was emphasized. This also ultimately led to the birth of the Democratic Project.

In the 19th century those three legs begin to be kicked out from under the stool.

weigel-1The first leg to be kicked out was Jerusalem.

  • The project of Atheistic Humanism
  • The God of the Bible as the enemy of human liberation and maturation. (This is ironic as God had entered into history as a Liberator as opposed to the gods of Egypt, Greece, etc., with their demands, child sacrifice, and treatment of persons as “chess pieces” to be lead around a cosmic game board.

The second leg to be removed was the Athenian leg.

  • If no rationality is built into the world…no Logos…then reason left to its own devices turns on itself.
  • The result: there is “your truth” and there is “my truth.” A view dominant in so many philosophy departments in universities today.

The final leg, left on its own, will then collapse. Thus the Rome leg and our entire stool was brought down.

  • If there is no truth, and no horizon of judgement, then I’ll impose my will on you or vice-versa.
  • This is known as “Coercion of the Will” (or Will to Power)
  • Students shutting down free speech on campuses, for example.
  • He referred to modern universities as “expensive daycare centers”, a term that elicited laughter from the crowd.

All of this, he said, is auto-constructed self-deconstruction. In other words, we’ve done this to ourselves. Communism lost. The Nazis lost. Fascism lost. Yet we alone did this to ourselves.

Weigel ended the night by talking about the lessons to be learned from rediscovering and reading what he called “the great books”. These are his Ten Lessons Learned from Classic Education:

  1. The dignity of the human person as inalienable
  2. The superiority of reason to raw emotionalism
    (Thinking trumps Emotion)
  3. The sense of responsibility for the common good
    (A willingness to contribute and sacrifice for the common good)
  4. The willingness to engage others with dignity and respect
    (Disagreement is not hate)
  5. The critical importance of integrity, prudence and maturity in public life
    (Character counts)
  6. The ability to distinguish between Wisdom and Whizbang (Twitter).
    (In other words, there is no way to find wisdom in 140 characters on Twitter or in brief Facebook status updates. Too many confuse the quick hit or even memes as some deep dark secret of life, or as wisdom.)
  7. The recognition that democracy depends on a critical mass of virtue in the citizenry.
    (Weimar Republic: while the architects built grand facades and pillars making it appear as a great, classic society, it masked the corruption and dissatisfaction within that ultimately led to Hitler rising to power through a free election.)
  8. The instinct for sniffing out demagoguery
    (Learning to recognize when the man of power is a demagogue in disguise)
  9. An appreciation for the truly beautiful, not the transiently amusing.
    (We are amusing ourselves to death. Get yourselves, and most importantly your children, away from the screens.)
  10. A sense of life as adventure.
    (Life has a goal and a direction. This goes against the zeitgeist of our post-modern line of thought that says “life is a burden.”)

Weigel concluded by emphasizing the need for Virtue and the things needed to become a free and virtuous society.

  1. Democratic Society
  2. Free market Economy
  3. Vibrant Moral Culture

It takes a certain kind of people with certain virtues to make the machinery of political and economic society work.

So taking all of the above into consideration, what heals a wounded culture? Mr. Weigle’s response: An encounter with great thinkers and great minds of the past.

Throughout the evening he mentioned books such as The Aenid, The Iliad, The Odyssey, Night by Elie Wiesel, and the Bible. And writers/thinkers such as Aristotle, Augustine, Dostoyevsky and Aquinas.

Weigel ended his lecture with the following closing remarks: Honor the wisdom of the past and extend it into the future.

There was a brief Q&A afterwards. I raised my hand to ask what we as parents could do to help facilitate this education for our children given the fact that so many universities no longer appear to back their professors who teach a classical education. Here I was going to allude to the goings on at Providence College and Dr. Anthony Esolen (you can get a good overview of it by reading this article and the links within it), but a man behind me was called on first and he asked essentially the same question. Weigel’s response was to reiterate what he’d said earlier about removing the screens from our children’s lives and not only having the classics within our homes but to model good behavior for our children and read them. Read them together and discuss them. He talked about one family he knew that had a weekly family movie night, and while they would watch popular movies together they would also watch classics such as A Man For All Seasons and talk a bit about them with their kids as well.

Bishop Conley's closing remarks.

Bishop Conley’s closing remarks.

An interesting question was posed by a woman in the audience: If you could give one book to everyone in America what would it be? After humorously hinting towards a forthcoming book of his to be published early next year, Weigel once more referred to a book he’d talked about early in the lecture that he’d enjoyed that was written by James Traub John Quincy Adams: Militant Spirit. At over 600 pages however Mr. Weigel that might be a tough one to get everyone to read. After thinking it over audibly for a minute he said that although it wasn’t a book, he’d give everyone a DVD set of the HBO miniseries John Adams, based on the book of the same name by David McCullough.

Once the Q&A was complete, our Diocese of Lincoln Bishop James Conley closed the evening with a few remarks and a closing prayer.

I plan to do a quick follow up to this blog next week to discuss reading the classics. I determined that it would make this article too long. My apologies for the outline/bullet point nature of what I captured during the lecture. I learned to take notes that way to survive my history and political science lectures in college and I still use them to this day.

Friday Five – Volume 114

I’m a day late with this, but wanted to pass this along courtesy of Fr. Richard Heilman:

Be Thankful

Be thankful that you don’t already have everything you desire,
If you did, what would there be to look forward to?

Be thankful when you don’t know something
For it gives you the opportunity to learn.

Be thankful for the difficult times.
During those times you grow.

Be thankful for your limitations
Because they give you opportunities for improvement.

Be thankful for each new challenge
Because it will build your strength and character.

Be thankful for your mistakes
They will teach you valuable lessons.

Be thankful when you’re tired and weary
Because it means you’ve made a difference.

It is easy to be thankful for the good things.
A life of rich fulfillment comes to those who are
also thankful for the setbacks.

GRATITUDE can turn a negative into a positive.
Find a way to be thankful for your troubles
and they can become your blessings.

That’s the main course, on to the seconds (or thirds…or fourths…)

Friday Five-Mere Observations

— 1 —

Here’s your Word of the Year, ladies and gentlemen. It’s sadly appropriate.

The Oxford Dictionary, after a tumultous year of political exaggeration and media distortion, has chosen “Post-Truth” as its Word of the Year.

In making the announcement, Casper Grathwohl, President of the Global Business Development & Dictionaries Division at Oxford University Press, predicted that “post-truth” could become “one of the defining words of our time.” Grathwohl added,

“Fueled by the rise of social media as a news source and a growing distrust of facts offered up by the establishment, post-truth as a concept has been finding its linguistic footing for some time.”

The dictionary defines “post-truth” as

“Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

I’ve got to say that the Oxford Dictionary has hit the nail on the head. This is a definition which affirms the feelings of transgender individuals over the scientific reality of “x” and “y” chromosomes, and ranks “feelings” over objective truth when college students retreat to their “safe spaces” complaining of racism and inequality and gender discrimination.

— 2 —

To continue what I said last week about enjoying movies that tell stories (and not the kind you find in a superhero comic):

 

 

H/T to Steven Greydanus

— 3 —

Recently Msgr. Charles Pope wrote about The Modern Tendency to Get Lost in Our Devices. It’s an excellent article in which he cites an article in First Things written by Patricia Snow. It seems we read these types of articles with more frequency these days as people are awakening from the stupor of what staring at a screen has done to them and their ability to interact with others or function in society. But it was the following passage that really stood out to me (in particular what I boldfaced):

That’s right, the effects of becoming lost in our devices lead to semi-permanent problems and symptoms we usually attribute to autism spectrum disorders. This affects not only human conversation, but even more so the conversation with God that we call prayer. Snow writes,

For all the current concern about technology’s effects on human relationships, little or nothing is being said about its effects on man’s relationship with God. If human conversations are endangered, what of prayer, a conversation like no other? All of the qualities that human conversa­tion requires—patience and commitment, an ability to listen and a tolerance for aridity—prayer requires in greater measure. Yes, here is the one conversation Satan most wants to end.

So here is the problem: there is an increasing loss in our ability to relate to other people and to God. The virtual is prized over the real, fantasy over reality. What God actually offers us is dismissed as of lesser value and we become more deeply locked in our own little world. It is a perfect recipe for Hell since it also describes it: turned in on oneself and away from God and others.

What is the way out of this descent into a self-enclosed virtual world?

It’s worth your time to read the rest and have that question answered. And while I’ve thought of it off and on, it wasn’t until reading that paragraph from Ms. Snow that I saw it in black and white. As a father it is a very real concern of mine. As a citizen watching our culture devolve into an unthinking, reactionary and angry society it alarms me to no end.

— 4 —

According to NPR many people are taking steps to cut back on social media after this election.

Rachael Garrity posted a farewell message on Facebook. She told her “friends” — that’s how she puts it in an email to NPR, in quotes — that she would delete her account. An email from her son followed: Are you OK?

“I am finding Facebook to have a negative impact on my continuing to keep a positive feeling regarding some of the people I have known longest and cherish most,” writes Garrity, who has worked in not-for-profit marketing and publishing since the 1970s.

Garrity was one of more than 150 people who have shared their stories with NPR, recapping how they are recalibrating their attitude toward social media after this year’s election. Donald Trump’s surprise victory ended an emotional roller-coaster of a presidential race, which has left Facebook, Google and Twitter scrambling to rein in a proliferation of fake news and harassing behavior.

“What was really shocking to me was how many people who I consider to be smart were sharing things that were not so smart, definitely obviously fake but matched whatever viewpoint that they pushed or agreed with,” says Michael Lowder. He’s Garrity’s grandson — and he shared her story with NPR because, true to her word, she has quit Facebook, where NPR posted the call-out.

— 5 —

Amy Welborn addressed a question I see repeatedly being asked in the days and weeks following the election: What do we tell the children? Amy is always worth reading and this week she articulated thoughts I’ve sifted in my own head and she brought some order to them.

On Christ the King Sunday last week I exchanged a few texts with a good friend of mine in which I mentioned that it seemed to me the reason so many Hillary supporters were wailing and gnashing their teeth is because they, like so many Obama supporters, had elevated a politician to the role of a savior. All their trust, all their self-esteem, all their faith in who they are is entrusted to a fallible human being beholden to their donors. To be fair, I see this on the right side of the spectrum too, and became disgusted when I’d see Trump memes appear after he won his party’s nomination this summer. Memes that suggested all our problems would be fixed by Trump. Many was the time during this whole election spectacle that I recalled a favorite passage from Holy Scripture:

It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to put confidence in man. It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to put confidence in princes. – Psalm 118:8-9

Instead of asking What do we tell the children?, Amy asks What have you been telling your children?

I would also ask What have you been telling yourself?

Scenes from wartime: “This constant strain.”

churchofspies_bookcoverAmongst the books in the stack next to my bed garnering attention is Church of Spies: The Pope’s Secret War Against Hitler by Mark Riebling. Published in November 2016, the book was gifted to me last spring from a grateful friend who had borrowed several books from me while she researched a college paper. While it has its slower moments, the book really is a fascinating and, at times, exciting read set during a time of madness. The only reason I have not finished it by now is my own inability to focus my attention on one book at a time. While I have the attention span of a gnat these days I do highly recommend this book.

I pulled the excerpt below from the end of Chapter 15: Shootout at the Cathedral. In my haste I neglected to write down the time period of this meeting between a German politician, Josef Müller and Wilhelm Canaris, a German admiral. They had met at a German hotel to exchange information when they discovered that the SS, led by Ernst Kaltenbrunner, had already staked out a table in the hotel restaurant. I thought it did a great job of capturing the intrigue and strain these men were under in such a dangerous time.

*****

Müller went upstairs to Canaris’s room. Canaris did not seem quite himself, and the report of Kaltenbrunner’s presence seemed to unhinge him. (SS spy chief Ernst Kaltenbrunner is described as “taller than the rest, with a long scar down his cheek.) He started knocking on the walls, looking for microphones. He took the pictures down and scrutinized the areas behind them, then ran his hands under the edges of the tables and the chairs. Apparently satisfied, Canaris put his coat over the telephone and asked about the interrogation. Müller said that they had asked about his Vatican missions, but he had purged all his files before Sauermann arrived. They found nothing. But Canaris worried about the money Dohnanyi had given Schmidhuber for U-7. They seemed trapped. The admiral sank into a chair and muttered, half to himself, “This constant strain.” His nerves seemed shot.

muller-canaris-kaltenbrunner

L to R: Müller, Canaris, Kaltenbrunner

Müller saw only one way out. Canaris should reconsider Keitel’s offer to let military intelligence set up its own internal policing unit, so that Canaris could investigate crimes within his own service. In their current straits, that certainly would help them control the probe.

Canaris would not consider that. The Rosa Luxemburg case haunted him. After Luxemburg’s assassination by a paramilitary Freikorps in 1919, Canaris had served as a junior officer at the court-martial, which imposed a strangely lenient judgment on the perpetrators. Some suspected him of complicity in Luxemburg’s death. He wanted nothing to do with “manhunts,” he told Müller. He already had enough emotional burdens from “the old days.” Rising abruptly, he suggested that they go downstairs to eat.

Müller suggested they eat elsewhere, given the SS stakeout. Canaris disagreed. They should always do the unexpected. When a sniper had someone in his sights, he said, the target must break cover to confuse him. As they descended the stairs, however, Canaris grabbed Müller to steady himself. “That criminal,” he said in a loud voice, “is still sacrificing millions of people just to prolong his miserable life.” Startled, Müller pulled him back into the room to recompose. When they stepped out into the hall again, Canaris slung an arm around him and said, “My nerves, my nerves! I can’t stand it anymore.” No one know what he had endured since 1933. He murmured about a tightening noose and then forced his face into a mask of normality. Together they descended to the restaurant to meet the enemy over a four-course meal.

Canaris sat down and nodded to Kaltenbrunner. Müller sat by Canaris. They all talked like old friends. The surreal dinner had the feel of a parlay between the Greeks and the Trojans. When it ended, the war resumed. Over the next months, Müller would return to the Vatican, and the pope would again become an active conspirator—as the plotters accelerated their plans to destroy Hitler before he could destroy them.

– from Church of Spies: The Pope’s Secret War Against Hitler by Mark Riebling. Chapter 15: Shootout at the Cathedral, pp.140-141.

*****

Postcript

Josef Müller (27 March 1898 – 12 September 1979), also known as “Ochsensepp”, was a German politician. He was a member of the resistance during World War II and afterwards one of the founders of the Christian Social Union (CSU). He was a devout Catholic and a leading figure in the Catholic resistance to Hitler.

Wilhelm Franz Canaris (1 January 1887 – 9 April 1945) was a German admiral and chief of the Abwehr, the German military intelligence service, from 1935 to 1944. Initially a supporter of Adolf Hitler, he later turned against the Nazis as he felt Germany would lose another major war. During the Second World War he was among the military officers involved in the clandestine opposition to the Nazi regime. He was executed in Flossenbürg concentration camp for high treason as the Nazi regime was collapsing.

Ernst Kaltenbrunner (4 October 1903 – 16 October 1946) was an Austrian-born senior official of Nazi Germany during World War II. An Obergruppenführer (general) in the Schutzstaffel (SS), between January 1943 and May 1945 he held the offices of Chief of the Reich Main Security Office (Reichssicherheitshauptamt; RSHA). He was the highest-ranking member of the SS to face trial at the first Nuremberg trials. He was found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity and executed.

Friday Five – Volume 113

I’m composing this week’s Friday Five post using a new web browser called “Brave”. When former Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich was forced out of his job rather unceremoniously and unfairly, I kept tabs on his work because Firefox was my favorite browser thanks largely due to his acumen, and I’d heard he was going to go back to work in creating a competitor. He recently released Brave and after reading about it I decided to download it for use. Not because Firefox is awful (that honor belongs to Microsoft Edge) but because of the totalitarian manner in which they dumped the guy who created their success. Some of the details are outlined in the article I linked to. Congratulations Mr. Eich. So far (admittedly just a few hours) I am really liking Brave. It’s fast, automatically blocks ads and trackers, and says it’s safer.

Moving forward…

Friday Five-Mere Observations

— 1 —

Two excerpted passages that got me to thinking about the great dearth of information we absorb every waking hour in this modern age, and yet are nowhere near as wise as we could be…should be.

The first is from a poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay, in her collection Huntsman, What Quarry? (source)

Upon this gifted age, in its dark hour,
Rains from the sky a meteoric shower
Of facts . . . they lie unquestioned, uncombined.
Wisdom enough to leech us of our ill
Is daily spun, but there exists no loom
To weave it into fabric.

The second is from something I posted on this date in 2010 and was reminded of recently. It comes from Ecclesiastes, included in the Divine Office for the day.

Though I said to myself, “Behold, I have become great and stored up wisdom beyond all who were before me in Jerusalem, and my mind has broad experience of wisdom and knowledge”; yet when I applied my mind to know wisdom and knowledge, madness and folly, I learned that this also is a chase after wind. For in much wisdom there is much sorrow, and he who stores up knowledge stores up grief.

I can attest to the truth in that last line. Not necessarily because I’m all that wise, but the truth in the fact that the deeper you go into things, not just skimming the surface in a wide array of factoids and headlines but into the very roots and causes of our struggles, one will often find sorrow…and grief…because we just can’t seem to get out of our way, learn from our mistakes, let go of past wrongs, and move forward.

Therein lies the tragedy in my mind. And it has ever been so.

— 2 —

In what was the best article I read this week, Fr. George Rutler wrote the following:

Watching all of the post-election angst, protests and violence reminds me that T.S. Eliot was right when he wrote in “The Four Quartets”: “Humankind cannot bear very much reality.”

Perhaps the second best (in my eyes) was Sam Guzman’s blog a few days ago named “Love Your (Political) Enemies”. Sam begins with a litany of terms thrown about much too casually these days:

Fascist. Snowflake. Liberal weenie. Nazi. Racist, xenophobic, bigot. Idiot. Moron. Ignorant fool.

It’s getting worse because while those names used to be reserved for online rants, more and more people are saying it too each other, face-to-face, in what has become a titanic divide among us.

I invite you to read it all, and I’m including the final two paragraphs below because they refer to a man I use more and more as a guiding star through this darkness.

St. Maximilian Kolbe lived in dark times in the days before and during World War II.  There was a great deal of hate and propaganda being disseminated on all sides.  And yet this saint, holy as he was, did not participate in the evil being spread everywhere.  He did not return hate for hate, bitterness for bitterness.  I conclude with his words, which describe the true spirit of the children of God.

“Genuine love rises above creatures and soars up to God.  In Him, by Him, and through Him it loves all men, both good and wicked, friends and enemies.  To all it stretches out a hand filled with love; it prays for all, suffers for all, wishes what is best for all, desires happiness for all, because that is what God wants.”

— 3 —

This is a little story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody.

There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it.

Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it.

Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybody’s job.

Everybody thought that Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it.

It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.

(source unknown)

— 4 —

Jessica Chastain has been one of my favorite actresses ever since her role in The Tree of Life. I saw the trailer for The Zookeeper’s Wife yesterday and am looking forward to watching it. Apparently it’s based on the book of the same name, a bestseller published in 2008 written by Diane Ackerman. From the book’s page on Amazon:

A true story in which the keepers of the Warsaw Zoo saved hundreds of people from Nazi hands. After their zoo was bombed, Polish zookeepers Jan and Antonina Zabinski managed to save over three hundred people from the Nazis by hiding refugees in the empty animal cages. With animal names for these “guests,” and human names for the animals, it’s no wonder that the zoo’s code name became “The House Under a Crazy Star.” Best-selling naturalist and acclaimed storyteller Diane Ackerman combines extensive research and an exuberant writing style to re-create this fascinating, true-life story―sharing Antonina’s life as “the zookeeper’s wife,” while examining the disturbing obsessions at the core of Nazism.

When you add that movie to my wanting to see Hacksaw Ridge this weekend, and the new movie about the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings called Patriots Day (link to trailer), there are still movies worth going to that don’t include Marvel or DC Comic superheroes. Movies that tell stories about the human condition. Thank God for that.

— 5 —

In the two hours I’ve had the Brave browser open it tells me that it has done the following:

brave-scorecard

 

 

 

(An hour later and those numbers are now 116, 24, 76 and 7.)

I like it.

I’ll end this week with a song about stories. And why it matters.

Sit with me and tell me once again
Of the story that’s been told us
Of the power that will hold us
Of the beauty, of the beauty
Why it matters

Speak to me until I understand
Why our thinking and creating
And our efforts of narrating
About the beauty, of the beauty
And why it matters

Like the statue in the park
Of this war torn town
And its protest of the darkness
And this chaos all around
With its beauty, how it matters
How it matters

Show me the love that never fails
Some compassion and attention
Amidst confusion and dissension
Like small ramparts for the soul
How it matters

Like a single cup of water
How it matters